It happened pretty much every time I took both of my children out in public together. I’d have them both strapped tightly in our stroller or shopping cart in a laughably futile attempt to keep their uproarious antics somewhat contained when I’d notice a stranger looking our way with a slightly bemused smile. I would feel my frustration rise as my children’s shenanigans escalated and, as if in an effort to defuse this potentially explosive situation, the stranger would approach me with kind eyes and whisper, “You have such beautiful little girls.”
I’d look back at my children, one dressed in a pink shirt with butterflies and one in a blue shirt with a bulldozer, and fervently wonder how anyone could see noteworthy beauty in children as feral as these. “Thank you,” I would reply softly, feeling no need to point out that the little Tasmanian devil dressed in blue was, in fact, a boy.
I really couldn’t deny that my son (clothing aside, mind you) did indeed look like a girl. I had let his perfectly sun-kissed hair grow almost to his shoulders, and it had a slight wave to it around his face reminiscent of the fairest of cherubs. His beautiful, bright blue eyes, framed by some enviably long eyelashes, didn’t exactly help make the case for masculinity either. I could completely understand how someone would assume he was a girl…particularly now that gender-specific clothing has become such a hot button issue.
And so I feel compelled to share my one and only commandment of raising a boy with long hair: Thou shalt never feel insulted should someone mistake your son for a daughter. Thou shalt only correct said person should circumstances dictate it (such as should the person in question be the child’s pediatrician—and yes, that happened to us). If you’re going to let your son have long hair, you are going to encounter a lot of these awkward situations, so you might as well buckle up and get comfortable with them. It somehow doesn’t even matter if your son is wearing a shirt called Mr. Awesome; if he has long hair, people are still going to assume he’s a she. And they don’t do it with malintent. It’s an honest mistake and not one worth dwelling on.
With all the potential pitfalls associated with allowing a boy’s hair to take a walk on the feminine side, you may question why someone would do it. Perhaps you’ve seen a boy with flowing locks and wondered why on earth his parents just didn’t take their son in to get a proper haircut already. I would certainly never be so presumptuous as to try to state universal truths regarding another parent’s grooming choices, but I can definitely outline some of the thinking that led me to allow my son’s hair to grow as long as it did:
1. He had amazing hair. My son’s hair was so perfectly highlighted and silky that at one point I think I was subliminally growing it out just so that I could someday cut it all off and tape it to my scalp. It was the kind of hair that many women—myself included—pay good money for. I really couldn’t bare the thought of chopping off hair that lovely just because society said I should.
2. I hate most boys’ haircuts. If you ask me, one of the great travesties of our time is how badly hairstylists tend to butcher children’s hair, especially boys who are blessed with thick hair like my son. They cut it in a style I term The Equator, because it is just a straight line cut around the entire circumference of the child’s head. There is nothing more disheartening to me than seeing a spirited little boy stuck with this uninspired and unflattering cut.
3. I fear my reaction to a bad haircut. I fear not only the myriad ways that someone I’ve never met might ruin the otherwise perfect aesthetic of my child (see above), but also how uncivilized my reaction to such a desecration of my child might be. This is why I have chosen to cut both of my kids’ hair by myself. If I give them a bad haircut, I can rationalize it away and move on with my life. If someone else were to botch the job, I might be compelled to buy a voodoo doll and poke it multiple times every hour on the hour. Such is the depravity of my soul.
4. I used to date bad boys in high school.* Bad boys tend to go against the grain, so their hair is rarely of the clean-cut military crew variety. I used to have a thing for bad boys and, therefore, I eventually developed a thing for long hair. I think it’s super cool. I’ve come to understand that some people equate long hair on guys with other, less desirable characteristics, but to me, nothing says “I’m a stud” faster than a boy whose hair extends beyond the bottom of his baseball cap.
*Do I think that my affinity for long-haired boys actually has anything to do with my decision to let my son’s hair grow out? Not really. Did I ever even date bad boys in high school? I’ll never tell. But it made for a pretty catchy title for this post, so I’m going with it.
5. Long hair > smocked jon jons. I think a lot of people who object to long hair on boys are the same ones who put their older boys in smocked jon jons. I hate smocked jon jons on any boy over the age of one. They look ridiculous. There—I said it. Go ahead and revoke my Southerner’s card.
All joking aside, what I can tell you is this: My son had speech delay and sensory issues until he was almost three, which made taking him out in public pretty challenging (which we all know is a code word for downright miserable). He would scream and recoil in terror if someone tried to talk to him or if something seemingly insignificant didn’t go the way he was expecting it to.
I knew he was a beautiful person on the inside, but I didn’t feel like this beauty was often reflected to those on the outside. Looking back now, I realize that in growing his hair long, I felt like I was letting people see the sweet little soul that I knew on the inside instead of the screaming banshee child he appeared to be on the outside. I felt like I was giving him a voice while he was still trying to find his own.
And to those of you who might be inclined to say that in growing my son’s hair long I was torturing him and setting him up for “issues” in the future, allow me to present to you Exhibit A. I don’t think any child could ever be more tormented in their future than I am when I look back on and recall this period in my life. To this day I can’t understand why my mom allowed me to be seen in public looking like this, but it does prove without a shadow of a doubt that there is life after a wayward hairstyle. After all, I’m a totally normal and functioning member of society and have been able to successfully work through the trauma inflicted on me by my mullet year. Mostly.